Saturday, 23 November 2013

The 'First Landowners'

 ‘Terra Nullius’

When engaging in Australian history such as that at Warrimoo, historians must inevitably confront the reality of ‘Terra Nullius’. Of course the real ‘first landowners’ were either Darug or Gundungarra peoples, and their ‘ownership’ was different in nature to that conceived by British tradition—it was more a question of ‘custodianship’, where the land in question was tended and replenished in a cyclical manner, in preparation for future visits and future generations.


Thus, ‘firestick farming’ occurred when a group was leaving a given area to replenish green grassland and remove unwanted shrubbery, so that hunting and general movement was made easier. Thick forest-land was left as such to retain bush habitat for edible vegetation and game. Tracks were maintained as groups moved through, simply  by uprooting and removing obstacles. The idea of ‘changing’ or ‘clearance’ or ‘building upon’ an identifiable stretch of ground and working upon it in a ‘lineal’, ‘progressive’ or ‘developmental’ way was not the aim.

A view of Lapstone Hill from the perspective of 'Emu Plains Road', painted by an early colonial artist, Augustus Earle.


 A very powerful case[1] can be made for the notion that British colonizers walked in to an ‘Eden of Plenty’ in 1788. Aside from the travails of the First Fleet, the members of which understood very little of the environment around them, colonial explorers more frequently spoke of ‘rich grasslands’, ‘abundant wildlife’ and ‘plentiful game’. At the same time, white settlers generally ignored the edible vegetation all around them and preferred to import European crops which often failed.


Indications—from available European writings of the period—tend to support the notion of both ‘clear forest areas’ as well as ‘dense bushland’ coexistent with ‘plenty’ upon first arrival. There were plenty of emus at ‘Emu Plains’ for example, and Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, along with the other explorers of the time, were always able to shoot game when the necessity arose. They came across ‘open forest areas’ and clear streams such as that near Sun Valley as well as tough, bush-bashing vegetation which made progress difficult. In short, Darug and Gundungarra land management practices had provided a complex yet plentiful, some might say ‘idyllic’ environment, for human existence.

Kangaroos feeding at Euroka Clearing, near Glenbrook. Spaces such as these were cultivated by controlled burning, so that a 'patchwork' of cleared and thickly forested country was maintained.

 Yet by the 1860’s the ‘first landowners’ had effectively gone from Warrimoo. The density of traffic moving to and fro across the Great Western Road meant that all stock fodder had been stripped for kilometres on either side. Native animals had been hunted into scarcity or extinction (by the 1830’s there were no more emus at Emu Plains), and random but fairly frequent bushfire incidents had changed the shape and ecology of the bush forever.


It is logical to assume that these factors alone made survival and reproduction for Darug and Gundungarra clans vastly more difficult. Then there was the likelihood of killings and deaths from disease as the European population became more omnipresent. Many Indigenous people became fringe dwellers—there is certain evidence of a substantial presence of Aboriginal people at Springwood up until the 1830’s---and many sought work on the farms of the Marsdens (St. Marys), Blaxlands (St. Marys and Wallacia) and Coxes (Richmond and Mulgoa) down on the Cumberland plain.

Some of the Darug survivors: the Everinghams, Barbers and George H. Morley, photographed at the turn of the century. They came from clans in the Hawkesbury region.

As land became available and white settlement expanded during the latter half of the nineteenth century, Darug and Gundungarra families were herded into more confined settlements, generally termed ‘missions’ and ‘reserves’. There was the first gathering of families at Blacktown, but others sprang up at South Creek, Eastern Creek (this settlement had Darug burial grounds) Sackville Reach on the Hawkesbury, and in the Mountains, at ‘The Gully’ near Katoomba.


Three proud residents of 'The Gully': Aunty Joan Cooper, Aunty Dawn Colless and Aunty Betty Locke, did much to restore awareness of Darug/Gundungarra presence in the Blue Mountains.

The ‘Gully’ was a well known settlement in the Mountains which held descendants of both Darug and Gundungarra nations. It lasted until the 1950’s when a car racing circuit called “Catalina Park” was established there. The Aboriginal people were evicted and dispersed, although many of their descendants continued to live in their original ‘Country’[2]. According to the last census, there are currently about 1,000 Aboriginal people living in the Blue Mountains, several of whom live in Warrimoo.

[1] GAMMAGE, Bill, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia. Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2011
[2] LEAFLET and website: http:www.bluemountainstourismaboriginalhistory

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Rush for Gold--and Land

Gold! The Robertson Land Acts and Warrimoo


Identifying the geography of New South Wales as being very similar to the countryside he recently visited in the California Gold Rush, Edward Hammond Hargraves set off across the Mountains’ Road towards Bathurst seeking clues to a possible ‘El Dorado’ west of the Great Divide.
Hargraves the heroic Discoverer--he is supposed to be saluting cheering goldminers, with the Blue Mountains in the background

He met John Hardman Lister at an Inn along the way. Lister mentioned that he had heard gold specks had been found in Lewis Ponds Creek, so Hargraves promised the young man he would show him how to find gold. They panned at Lewis Ponds Creek and found five specks of ‘colour’.


Hargraves then showed Lister and two of his mates, James and William Tom, how to build as well as  use a ‘Californian Cradle’, and shortly left for Sydney to announce the discovery of gold in the colony.
An old photograph of William Tom and the 'California Cradle' that he constructed, which launched the Australian Gold Rushes

While Hargraves was busily trying to (unsuccessfully) convince the Colonial Secretary of the importance of his find, Lister and the Tom brothers had actually sifted 120 grams of payable gold at the junction of Lewis Ponds and Summer Hills Creeks—this was to become the site of the first ‘gold rush town’ of Ophir. Rather foolishly, the boys passed this information, along with the 120 grams, to Hargraves.

John Hardman Lister--it was he who showed Hargraves where the gold could be found, and it was he and the Tom brothers who actually mined the first payable gold, but it would be decades before he and the Toms got some belated recognition

It was April, 1851. This was headline news. With Hargraves encouragement, a fever was being generated. By mid April, 400 people were panning for gold at Ophir. By December of the same year, 10,000 were frantically mining at Ballarat—the Australian Gold Rushes had begun.


Swollen Immigration


The next decade saw a massive influx of immigrants. For a group of colonies which had taken sixty years to achieve a white population of 405,000, the next ten years’ arrivals amounted to a tidal wave. In that time over 700,000 new optimists, including 50,000 Chinese, swamped the countryside seeking a new and fortunate life.
One of S. T. Gill's famous sketches, at left, diggers off to the goldfields--most walked--and at right in an anonymous drawing, Chinese miners at their labour

West of the Divide, far from Warrimoo, gold rush towns sprang up around and beyond Ophir, at Sofala, Hill End, Mudgee, Young (Lambing Flat), Forbes, Parkes, Grenfell and Gulgong along with many other, smaller fields. The traffic across the ‘Great Western Road’ as it was now known grew to be consistently intense. The colony grew wealthier, and service providers such as pubs and inns, stables and blacksmiths, general stores and postal services, sprang up across the Blue Mountains.


Throughout all this, the area now known as Warrimoo remained a campsite. The famous ‘Black Stump’ referred to by Maisie Lupton[1] had a clearing and a basic fireplace where weary travelers could bed down, bake some damper and boil a billy. There is (up to this point in time, at least) no evidence of non-Aboriginal occupation up to the 1860’s.


The Demand for Land


Many of the new immigrants saw opportunities in the fledgling settlements of the colony, and felt that land ownership offered the best chance of building wealth. However most land throughout New South Wales had already been “locked up”, either as Crown Land, previously granted and/or sold land, or as large scale “Stations” controlled by wealthy squatters, who paid peppercorn rental to the Crown for their properties.
Sir John Robertson--while a wealthy landowner himself, Robertson could see the need for a fairer and more dynamic system of land distribution--thus his 'Land Acts' became law in 1861


The question of land distribution became a sore political issue in all the colonies, so that ultimately the Premier of New South Wales, John Robertson, introduced a series of Land Acts which allowed “Selectors” to peg out 40—320 acre (16—130 hectare) ‘agricultural lots’ and then purchase the land at One Pound per acre over time. They were obliged to live on their blocks for at least three years and make economic improvements. Now, the “rush for land” had begun.
'Selectors' pegging out their land in the 1860's. They had to pay one pound per acre and live on their block in order to achieve ownership, as well as make 'improvements' such as dwellings and clearance.


Naturally, the most fertile, well-watered, less rocky and most accessible land was sought out and struggled over. In many districts, squatters aimed to block the new and enthusiastic farmers with a host of subversive and downright shonky practices, yet the process continued.


Soon, even less desirable farming land became available, and residential blocks to service transport networks such as roads, ports and railway stations, were released by the ‘Crown’ (the colonial government of New South Wales). Warrimoo’s existence as an identifiable Europeanised ‘place’ was drawing closer…

[1] LUPTON, Maisie et al, Warrimoo Public School, The First Twenty-Five Years, magazine published by Warrimoo Public School Anniversary Committee, 1987, p.11

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

4 Sophia Stanger 1841

A horse that refuses to pull its dray

So, what do all these observations have to do with ‘Warrimoo’, which had not been “settled yet? In a sense, in history, we need to understand why things do not happen as much as why they do. Warrimoo was not settled by Europeans in the middle of the 19th century, because its time had not yet come…

The testimony of these traveling observers tells us of the realities of the period: the amenities (or lack thereof), difficulties of travel, the size of population, the wilderness all around, the type of country required for European exploitation. Prior to the gold rushes, the section of lower mountains’ bush we now call ‘Warrimoo’ was simply part of the scenery to be passed through.

Now that the European invasion was in full swing the role of Warrimoo as ‘place’ was to change irrevocably. Darug land management practices, which had focussed on integrative cycles of resource usage, was being cumulatively degraded. The European invasion demanded conquest, clearance and domination. Mrs. Sophia Stanger was part of that invasion. More than our previous observers, she represented a working class determination to struggle, subdue and win—an attitude emblematic of the British imperialist movement of the time.

Her story is in the form of a letter to her “Beloved Mother” back in England. She sought to travel across the Mountains to Bathurst with her Blacksmith husband Joseph and her five children, during the winter of 1841.

Admitting at the start that they could not afford the 90 shillings each needed to catch the “mail cart”, she and her husband agreed to sell all non-essentials and “hitch a ride” with another settler, on his two-horse dray, camping along the way. They thought this might avoid the “undesirable company of bullock drivers, who are almost sure to be convicts of the very lowest grade.”[1]

The journey did not commence well...

And now, dear mother, fancy me with my five dear babes seated on the top of this miserable load! Eliza walking on a little out of the town, and my husband by our side, on one of the coldest mornings in June (which you must remember is your November, and quite as cold in many parts); but although we had resolved on starting, the poor horses had evidently determined otherwise, both positively refusing to act as leader. After much whipping, scolding and rearing up, the horse in the shafts fell down with the load pressing heavily on some part of it, making it very restive and with no little difficulty, we again dismounted. As is usual in such cases we soon had plenty of help and plenty of advisers:--

"Sure you wouldn't be thinking to cross the mountains with all those children!” cried one; and “sure you'll lose all your babes, God bless them!" cried another; "the mountains are all covered with snow, you will certainly perish," said a third; while others were utterly astonished a young girl should have so many children and especially three at a birth...

Every hour seemed now to increase our perplexities, for the horses would not stir an inch and the load was by far too heavy. Our goods were gone on several days in advance of us and there we stood with just money enough to defray our expenses and none to spare for delays or fresh agreements, the driver coolly telling us that he was very sorry, but his horses would not take the load, and he would not go without it...

Yet the Stanger family finally made it to the base of the Blue Mountains, and rested around a fire for the climb ahead of them...

Horses and dray, although this one is empty and the horses look quite powerful--the Stangers's dray was packed far too high, and the horses were poorly conditioned...

Being anxious to reach the top before dark, we attempted once more to proceed, but here the poor horses once again raised objections, and very soon the accompanying dray was backed fast against a tree, about 9 feet (3 metres—Ed) below the level of the road, and here we must have stayed had not a number of men forming the iron-gang (who were returning from their work of improving these roads) kindly assisted us, for a small sum to buy themselves tobacco. They very readily strung into harness of ropes, some drawing before, and others pushing at the wheels. These men are stationed at various places, with two or three soldiers over them, working constantly in heavy irons, and their labour generally appointed as punishment... [3]

Exhausted, Sophia and her brood achieved the top of Lapstone Hill and marvelled at the view below them. They advanced to set up camp near the Military Depot at Glenbrook Lagoon, and after almost being crushed in their tent by startled horses during the night, awoke next morning to continue their trek...

Now, again, the roads were heavy, and the drivers, notwithstanding every effort, were constantly mortified by the horses standing still, and then lying quite down.

Through this day poor Eliza walked on with dear baby, and I brought up the rear and blocked the wheels at every stoppage, sometimes left half-a mile behind, and then having to run as fast as possible to perform this new but somewhat irksome duty. Having made this day about eight miles, (it must have been less, probably six miles—Ed) we encamped near a hut at Springwood and with mutual consent, the next morning, parted with our guide, who, placing the horses abreast, proceeded with his load, leaving us to wait some other conveyance.[4]

Clearly on this day, Sophia Stanger and her family had passed through the bushland that was to become, within a few decades, “Warrimoo”. Her preoccupations were elsewhere, however: with the welfare of her young children: the baby, Matilda, a mere two months old, the eldest boy, Willie, and the triplets, Mary, Sarah and Eliza, all of whom were under six years of age.

The sheer labour of keeping the draft-horses moving and supervising the safety of her young, no doubt meant that the countryside drifting painfully by meant little to Sophia, nor all those like her, preceding her or following in her wake. Without the slightest inkling of the future, yet part of history. Such are our own lives, today, ‘History is what happens when you’re busy doing other things’...

Towards evening that day we were joined by five bullock teams and as one had behind his dray a new and empty one, we agreed with him to take us to Bathurst. Among these vehicles was the one loaded with our goods, which we had passed on the road, but as they formed altogether a jolly company and had been a week coming from Sydney, they thought well to "spell" (as they termed it) another day; but while they were carousing, our stock of provisions were diminishing, and it was with cheerful hearts that, about eleven the next morning we found ourselves on the road, comfortably seated in our new conveyance, and forming, as the procession moved slowly along, a formidable array--for, to every dray, there were about three men to swear at, beat and take care of the bullocks, each team consisting of nine, and almost as many dogs. Now we had no more anxiety, for our cattle were sure though slow, and if any difficulty occurred, it was only to hook on some ten or eight others and soon all was set right.

A bullocky with his team--note the condition of these cattle is not so good--if they collapsed on the journey and refused to get up, they would be left to die on the side of the road

Nothing occurred worth relating until we camped the second night, when having all our fires lighted, the winds blowing very cold and high took some of our sparks across the road and soon communicated with the bush. Seeing it spread and blaze to a considerable extent amused us. It is not infrequently that in dry seasons the bush takes fire, spreading destruction for miles, burning down everything before it. I should say that on these mountains, we felt the cold quite as severely as at any time I can remember in England and we daily expected snow, as it lays sometimes for weeks on these ridges, but dear Joseph most cleverly, contrived to shelter us by placing our ships berths at the sides and covering the top with the canvas of our tents.[5]

Ironically, Sophia Stanger and her family had found security among the swearing bullockies they had so desperately sought to avoid at the outset of their journey. Ironically too, she found warmth and “amusement” in the blaze that “burned everything before it”, no doubt wringing havoc upon the wildlife and people(?) in its path.

The successful arrival of the Stangers at Bathurst some days later, and the many families that followed, meant that British settlement of the Nineteen Counties, and the Blue Mountains, proceeded apace.

[1] MACKANESS, G., Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales –Part III—1835-1841, Review Publications, Dubbo, 1978, p.65
[2] Ibid., p. 65
[3] Ibid., p66
[4] Ibid., p67
[5] Ibid., pp 67-68

Thursday, 30 May 2013

3 Louisa Anne Meredith --1839

Mrs Meredith was an articulate ‘Lady of Means’ who had married her cousin, Mr Charles Meredith, in England and then migrated to Australia. She was a ‘radical thinker’ who supported the Chartists and thus electoral reform in Britain, as well as an amateur naturalist and author of some note, who ultimately came to live in Tasmania. One of the first things she and her husband did upon arrival in New South Wales, was to set out on an excursion from their abode in Homebush to travel to Bathurst, by carriage.

Louisa Anne Meredith, just married and travelling through New South Wales. She wears the  fashions of the new Queen: Victoria. Hair now falls to the shoulders, and the part is symmetrically down the middle. Dresses were again spreading outwards

After crossing the Nepean in the usual way, by ferry, and noting the total absence of emus in ‘Emu Plains’, for already they had been made extinct there, her carriage rose up the new Mitchell’s Pass Road…

…we reached the foot of Lapstone Hill, the first ascent, up which an excellent road has been made, winding along the side of the mountain, with high overhanging rocks on the left hand and a deep wooded ravine on the right. The wild scenery and the zigzag road reminded me of some of the “passes of the Alps”, as drawn by Brockedon, save that our ravine had no foaming torrent roaring down it; and it was only by the most intent observation that I could detect something like moisture trickling over the rocks, where an opening in the trees left the far-down stony bed visible.

It was October, and as I have before remarked, the spring months are by far the greenest in this land of ever-browns; so that I saw the country under favourable circumstances, although the severe droughts of the two preceding years had destroyed the artificial crops, and even the native grasses, to a deplorable extent…I was quite delighted, and thought that if all our progress over the dreaded Blue Mountains were as pleasant and interesting as the commencement, the journey would be much less wearisome than I anticipated…[1]

So Louisa was impressed with her carriage-ride up Mitchell’s Pass. Her interest in botany was stimulated by the wildflowers around her, and she was particularly struck by the local “Waratah”, a floral emblem evident on the badge of our present-day Blaxland High School.

Meredith loved the Australian bush and its Flora and Fauna. She became expert at drawing and describing the Antipodes, and her books sold well in Britain. Her descriptions are sometimes mindful of Dickens, her contemporary.

Nevertheless Louisa Meredith’s account is not always so positive…

After driving some miles nearly all up-hill, we stayed to breakfast at a small way-side public house, where the slovenly slipshod women, dirty floors, and a powerful odour of stale tobacco-smoke, gave me no very favourable expectations of cleanliness or comfort. On the smoke-stained walls hung some very highly coloured and showily framed prints, representing young gentlemen with red cheeks and very blue coats trying to look very hard at young ladies in pink gowns with very large sleeves; and severally inscribed, “The Faithful Lovers;” “The Betrothed;” “The False One,” &tc; ingenious distinctions of character, which it would have been extremely difficult to discover from the portraits alone.[2]

Louisa is not terribly impressed. The central question, and it is timely to invite further (outside) knowledge and comment on this point, is whether or not the establishment to which she refers at this point is the ‘Pilgrim Inn’, or one of the lesser ‘Public Houses’ of dubious reputation referred to earlier by James Backhouse.

The mention of ‘some miles nearly all uphill’ suggests the ascent up Mitchell’s Pass and the distance between Lennox Bridge and the ‘Pilgrim’. After all, the road after ‘Pilgrim’ undulated somewhat despite the fact that it rose at the sites of Warrimoo and Springwood. She also refers to ‘slipshod women’ in the plural—it was not just one woman serving—suggesting that this “small wayside public house” was at least large enough to employ more than one person.

At this point it is worth examining the actual proprietorship of the ‘Pilgrim Inn’, and discovering more about its original owner, Barnett Levey, a Sydney-based entrepreneur and impresario who had an Inn built at this same strategic point on the Western Road between 1825 and 1827.

Barnett Levy--a man of many talents, but a man obsessed with the stage. He raised funds from a variety of sources, including the sale of the 'Pilgrim Inn', in order to finance his dramatic ambitions

Levey was ‘promised’ a land grant by Governor Brisbane at the junction of the three ascent roads in 1825. Being an adventurous entrepreneur he had an Inn built on the site behind ‘Quix’/’McDonalds’ shortly afterwards, before he had actually secured full title to the land (he did not receive full title till 1830).[3]

In the meantime he was setting up the ‘Royal Hotel’ in George St., Sydney, which brought him into conflict with the new Governor, Sir Ralph Darling. His reckless dealings in alcohol, his enthusiasm to entertain the public with dramatic shows, and his construction of a windmill in the middle of Sydney to challenge the monopoly of the government mill, ultimately meant that Barnett Levey incurred the full wrath of the NSW government, which shut most of his projects down so that he soon found himself utterly broke. [4]

Meanwhile, in 1827, Levey had built one of the most spectacular homes in the colony, ‘Waverley’, overlooking the beach at Bondi, but his by now onerous debts required him to divest his assets. Henceforth, the ownership of the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ became somewhat obscure because it was put up ‘For Sale’ by Levey in 1828, complete with orchard, garden and ‘an excellent house of 12 rooms’. [5]

Waverley House--Levey's proud display at Bondi. As soon as he had money, it was spent, and Waverley was a typical example. This photo was taken long after his death in 1900, but the Georgian mansion was demolished in 1904

Barnett Levey, among his many occupations, was a Real Estate agent who was always devising new schemes for the sale of land to accrue funds and thus pursue his real passion: the theatre (including his own solo performances on stage). So it was unclear at this stage whether the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ was actually ‘sold’ or simply ‘leased’ to one William Williams for 100 pounds a year. Williams later was said to have been gored by a bull and killed, which might give us reason to assume that management of the Inn became less than thorough… ‘slipshod’ perhaps.[6]

Business can’t have been brilliant in the ensuing years, because ‘ownership’ of the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ changed hands at least twice in the 1830’s: first to James Evans and then to Henry Mace, who bought the subdivided land, Inn and surrounding stables, garden etc for the quite princely sum of 500 pounds.[7] Mace must have been the owner when Louisa Meredith visited—if indeed it was the ‘Pilgrim’ to which she referred—and made her scathing observations.

The original Pilgrim Inn, built primarily of weatherboard, but with a stone-brick building to the left of the picture. Was this Inn the subject of Meredith's withering critique, or was it another, just down the road?

It must be reported, before going further, that the original ‘Pilgrim Inn’ was mentioned glowingly in the 1834 ‘NSW Calendar’, a traveller’s publication which informed people of the roads, sights, and accommodation of the whole colony. It presented the Pilgrim Inn as “…One of the cleanest and most convenient in the country.”[8]

To confuse matters further, Levey received a further Land Grant in 1835 from Governor Burke called the ‘Mt. Sion Estate’, which also went up for sale and which had a building erected upon it called the ‘Pilgrim Inn’. This ‘Inn” also changed hands, changed its name to the ‘Late Lord Byron’ in 1838, but lost its licence to operate in 1842. [9]

There is a clue here that the second ‘Inn’ was not operating successfully—it could feasibly have been ‘slipshod’ and ‘slovenly’. The name, ‘Late Lord Byron’ may well conform to the type of wall decorations mentioned by Louisa Meredith, but then the grimy ‘smoke stained walls’ suggest an age of more than a couple of years to her Inn.

Notwithstanding, grime and grubbiness were then, and still are, a matter of management—either Inn could have been subject to poor practice at the moment of arrival of Louisa Anne Meredith’s carriage one sunny morning in October, coming to a halt at the Front Entrance, with its occupants hungry for breakfast.

A  photograph of Louisa Anne Meredith in the mid 19th Century. She is posing with a book that may have been her own publication, and you will note the Victorian furniture in the background

The following contains a fascinating account of the culinary delights supplied by such wayside Inns of the early Victorian era, including an entirely feasible theory as to the origins of the authentically Australian word “damper”…

In many places you find some particular dish more generally in vogue than others, but in New South Wales one universal reply follows the query of ‘What can you give us to eat?’ and this is, ‘’Am an’ eggs, Sir;’ ‘mutton chops’ forming the usual accompaniment, if required. So ham and eggs we had, and mutton chops, too; but from their being fried all together in the same dark-complexioned fat, the taste of these viands was curiously similar, and both of impenetrable hardness. Unless great care is taken, meat spoils so soon in this climate, that the custom among most persons is to cook it almost as soon as it is killed, which of course precludes the possibility of it being tender. Tea, with black sugar, but no milk, and bread without butter, completed the repast, with the addition of “damper”, a composition respecting which there are divers opinions, some persons preferring it to bread, whilst I think it is the worst way of spoiling flour. The etymology is perhaps “Dampier”, this indigestible food (an excellent damper of a good appetite) being supposed by some persons to have been invented by the great circumnavigator, and the manufacture is this:--A stiff dough is made of flour, water and salt, and kneaded into a large flat cake, two or three inches thick, and from twelve to eighteen broad. The wood-ashes are then partly raked from the hot earth, and the cake being laid on it, is heaped over with the remaining hot ashes, and thus bakes. When cut into, it exceeds in closeness and hard heaviness the worst bread or pudding ever tasted, and the outside looks dirty, if it is not so: still, I have heard many persons, conversant with every comfort and luxury, praise the “damper”; so I can only consider my dislike a matter of taste. In “the bush”, where brewer’s yeast cannot be procured, and people are too idle or ignorant to manufacture a substitute for it (which is easily done), this indurated dough is the only kind of bread used, and those who eat it constantly must have an ostrich’s digestion to combat its injurious effects. [10]

Louisa, even older. She wears the veil and black brooched gown of the Queen herself. It was amazing how Victoria's tastes spread across the length and breadth of the Empire.

Again, Louisa might at first appear to be a fickle English ‘soft-hands’, but it is possible to detect a certain underlying delight in the rough adventure of her experience. Her critique continued into the Inn’s yard…

Adjoining this comfortless habitation (called an inn) was a small plot of potato-ground, but no attempt at neatness or improvement was visible; all was slovenly and neglected. The dirt and indescribable combination of ill smells within, was but a type of the state of things without. In the rear of the house one vast undistinguished rubbish-heap spread around, bounded only by some wretched dilapidated outhouses and stables, and reeking with foul exhalations, on which, and its more tangible delicacies, a large conversazione of pigs seemed to luxuriate most satisfactorily. Several children were lying or lounging about in close companionship with the pigs, equally dirty, but apparently less lively. Miserable creatures! whilst my companions enjoyed their cigars in the cobwebbed verandah, I crossed the road, and was at once in the wild bush, where I rambled for some time, interested by everything around me, though careful to keep tolerably near the house.[11]

Thus refreshed, Louisa Anne Meredith and her husband continued on their journey to Weatherboard, where they were beaten to the rooms of that Inn by another party. Forced to travel a further six miles in the dark, on to Pulpit Hill (just beyond present-day Katoomba), they made it to ‘Blind Paddy's’ Inn and there, spent the night.

Yet another example of Meredith's fine art. Her attention to detail and careful truthfulness are evident in her written descriptions, too.

Ultimately Barnett Levey’s frenetic efforts to provide dramatic cultural expression to the rudimentary colony proved a failure, and he slid into ever-more chaotic behaviour and drink, so much so that he died in 1837, at a mere 40 years of age. He left a widow and four children, and it is uncertain where and how their lives ensued, considering their breadwinner’s estate was bankrupt, and required sell-off by the Sherriff.

Mrs Barnett Levy--she was loyal to her husband throughout all his schemes, dreams and flops, but when he died in 1837 she and her four children were left destitute

The original ‘Pilgrim Inn’ survived for many years as an Inn but the wooden part was burned to the ground in the 1968 fires. Two stone walls remain behind the ‘Quix/McDonald’s’ complex in contemporary Blaxland.

The second ‘Pilgrim Inn’ morphed into Blaxland’s (‘Wascoe’s’) first General Store and Post Office, but was demolished in 1913 to make way for the new railroad and station.

Louisa Meredith’s husband’s property investments in New South Wales went bust as a result of the droughts and bank collapses of the 1830’s. Consequently the couple moved to Tasmania where Louisa built a reputation as a colorful travel and botanical raconteur who had books published back in Britain. She died in 1895 at 83 years of age.


[1] MACKANESS, G., Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Review Publications, Dubbo, 1978, p.48
[2] Ibid., p48
[3], The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 01 Mar 1930, p.13

[5] Trove, op.cit.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] MACKANESS, G., op cit. p50
[11] Ibid., pp50-51

Thursday, 23 May 2013

2 Charles Darwin--1836

When the Beagle dropped anchor at Sydney Cove on its notorious voyage of discovery, Charles Darwin was 27 years of age and the colony of New South Wales had a population of 3,600 convicts and 16,000 free citizens. He immediately hired a guide and two saddle-horses for his forthcoming ride.

Young Darwin (1794-1869) around the time of his crossing of the Blue Mountains

Darwin’s narrative of his ‘Journey to Bathurst’ is invaluable because his observations are so acute and prescient—his interest in the Aboriginal people of both New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land belie a scientific awareness of humanity and a concern for the anthropology of the world. From his writings, we can discern a great deal about attitudes and living conditions at the time… 

He stayed at an Inn near Emu Ford and soon noticed some local natives: 

At sunset, a party of a score of the black aborigines passed by, each carrying, in their accustomed manner, a bundle of spears and other weapons. By giving a leading man a shilling, they were easily obtained, and threw their spears for my amusement. They were all partly clothed, and several could speak a little English; their countenances were good humoured and pleasant; and they appeared far from being such utterly degraded beings as they are usually represented. In their own arts they are admirable: a cap being fixed at thirty yards (about 30 metres—Ed) distance, they transfixed it with a spear, delivered by a throwing stick, with the rapidity of a bow of a practised archer. In tracking animals or men they show most wonderful sagacity; and I heard of several of their remarks which manifested considerable acuteness. They will not, however, cultivate the ground, or build houses and remain stationary, or even take the trouble of tending a flock of sheep when given to them…[1] 

The excerpt tells us that derogatory stereotypes of Aboriginal people had developed wide currency by 1836 and had already been bestowed upon Darwin by his obliging white hosts—they clearly had been portrayed to him as hopeless and “utterly degraded”. To his credit, Darwin has the wisdom to dismiss such bias and to take heed of his own eyes and ears, to draw his own conclusions. 

Mountains hunters using spear with 'throwing stick' ('womra'), boomerangs and fire, as sketched by an early colonial artist

Secondly, the Darug of Penrith/Emu Ford are here armed with a “bundle” of spears. We might recall that Governor Macquarie had not only banned such weapons back in 1817, but had also forbade the gathering of large parties (a “score” is twenty—surely enough to cause menace if they chose to do so) of natives. Either the proclamation had been rescinded, subsequent Governors had forgotten it or “let it pass” now feeling secure in their conquest, or Darug warriors had reasserted their rights to hunt and live as they always had done, daring the invaders to stop them.
More importantly, the possession, use and expertise in applying their weapons indicates these warriors were still perfectly capable of living a ‘traditional life’. Game and ancient vegetation may well be scarce, but extensive groups of local Darug were still able to live by their wits, even if it meant playing up to white tourists, and spurn the dull life of domestic farming offered by the colonial administration. 

Similar hunting demonstration carried out today...

Darwin crossed the river… 

Early in the morning we passed the Nepean in a ferry-boat. The river, although at this spot both broad and deep, had a very small body of running water. Having crossed the a low piece of land on the opposite side, we reached the slope of the Blue Mountains. The ascent is not steep, the road having been cut with much care on the side of a sandstone cliff…From this first slope, the view of the extensive woodland to the eastward, was striking, and the surrounding trees grew bold and lofty. But when once on the sandstone platform, the scenery becomes exceedingly monotonous; each side of the road is bordered by scrubby trees of the never-failing Eucalyptus family; and with the exception of two or three small inns, there are no houses, or cultivated land: the road, moreover, is solitary; the most frequent object being a bullock-waggon, piled up with bales of wool.[2] 

Apparently Mr. Darwin was not impressed by our dear ‘Mountains’ flora, but we might take some heart in the knowledge that the drought written about in previous diaries still dragged on, and the consequences of Backhouse’s fires must still have been in evidence alongside the road. 

Travelling in mid-January, the height of the Australian summer, could not have assisted Darwin’s temper, nor have increased the volume of fellow tourists on the Western Road. It would also explain the preponderance of wool drays making their way to Sydney after the summer shearing. 

In his whole sojourn from Emu Ford to the Weatherboard Inn (present-day Wentworth Falls) Darwin did not see any more than one further grouping of Indigenous people, and we must remember he was deliberately seeking them out… 

The number of aborigines is rapidly decreasing. In my whole ride, with the exception of some boys brought up in houses, I saw only one other party; these were rather more numerous than the first, and not so well clothed. This decrease, no doubt, must be partly owing to the introduction of spirits, to European diseases (even the milder ones of which, as the measles, prove very destructive), and to the gradual extinction of the wild animals. It is said that numbers of their children invariably perish in very early infancy from the effects of their wandering life. As the difficulty of procuring food increases, so must their wandering habits; and hence the population, without any apparent deaths from famine, is repressed in a manner extremely sudden…Wherever the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal…

It is unclear exactly where Darwin encountered this “other party” of Aboriginal people. Strictly speaking, it could have been anywhere between the escarpment and Weatherboard, though one might reasonably expect them to have been near the small settlement at Springwood, since this “party” appeared to have no concern with the sight of Europeans and may have been in consistent interaction with whites at the “depot” there. This is also where Pellion and the French expedition of 1819 found some Darug warriors. 

The disappearance of native fauna through European encroachment affected every aspect of Darug/Gundungarra life

Of most concern is the total omission of any sighting of the “several huts” seen by Blaxland on the famous Crossing of 1813. These were observed, according to most calculations, in or near the valley below the ‘Woolpack Inn’ (ie Sun Valley/Long Angle Gully/Warrimoo), which Darwin must surely have passed and noticed. The most logical conclusion must be that they had been destroyed, either by Europeans or fire, so the people who used them had moved on, into obscurity. 

Charles Darwin rode on to Bathurst, where he found the Macquarie River “a mere chain of ponds.” He returned to Sydney and continued on his voyage with the Beagle.

[1] MACKANESS, G., Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Review Publications, Dubbo, 1978, p.38
[2] Ibid., p.41
[3] Ibid., p.40

Some Observ-ations--1 James Backhouse

It is important at this point to pay due acknowledgement to Dr. George Mackaness, whose trilogy of monographs entitled Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales [1] (still available at Blue Mountains Libraries) has proved invaluable to local ‘Mountains historians such those of us at ‘Warrimoo History’.

Mackaness has not only researched the obvious authors: early exploration diarists such as Blaxland, Evans and Cox, but also the records of subsequent travelers across the ‘Mountains: those who had gamely followed the trailblazers and ventured into new territory as European observers.
The first-hand accounts of these early tourists make fascinating reading and their observations, as we shall see, provide a detailed and provocative picture of life across the ‘Mountains in the 1830’s. Thank you, Dr. Mackaness, for your efforts in finding and publishing, word for word, these cherished primary sources… 

1) James Backhouse—1835

Backhouse was a Quaker, and as a member of the ‘Society of Friends’, had been sent from London to carry out traveling missionary work in the Colonies. He was in no hurry, and tended to linger in those areas where he and his companion, George Walker, could do some good. His account is therefore quite detailed, thoughtful and objective.

James Backhouse (1794-1869)--Quaker, after he had returned to London. He was 41 years of age when he travelled through 'Warrimoo' on his Mission to the Antipodes

 After ministering to the inmates of the ‘Ironed Gang’ stockade at Emu Plains, he described his entry to the Blue Mountains… 

On leaving the Ironed-gang, we proceeded along dusty, mountain roads, through forests of Gum and Stringy-bark, in some parts of which, fire was raging with fury; it had burnt the scrub off other parts, and left it black. On reaching a place, called The Valley, where there is a plain, country inn, with the sign of The Woolpack, having moderate accommodation, we gladly rested for the night.[2] 

So Backhouse stayed at the Woolpack Inn, around 2 kilometres further on from present-day Warrimoo. Clearly, for James Backhouse there was not a great deal to comment on about the bushland mountain country he had thus far passed through, except to say that it was dry eucalypt forest land where fire was a common occurrence—possibly moreso than it had been in the preceding centuries, because it was no longer fully ‘managed’ by the Darug as it had been in the past.

A group of 19th Century Quakers in traditional garb

After traveling to Springwood and beyond, Backhouse encountered two ‘Ironed-Gangs’ that maintained the Western Road: 

About five miles from our lodging place, we visited another Ironed-gang, and three miles further, a third; in each there were about sixty men, and both were under the charge of a young military officer. The prisoners were lodged in huts, upon large, open areas, by the road-side, without any stockade. When not at work, they were kept on the spot, by a guard of soldiers, who are ordered to fire upon any that may attempt to escape, and who will not stop when called to. We were informed, that they had no Bibles, or other books, and that their only religious instruction consisted in the reading of prayers by the officer, or sergeant in charge, on First-days (Sundays—ed). A few of the prisoners lodge in moveable caravans, which have doors, and ironed-barred windows, on one side. Four or five men sleep in each end of them, on the floor, and as many more, on platforms. They are not less crowded than the huts, and are unwholesome dormitories. Many of the men sleeping in them, become affected with the scurvy. [3] 

It is not difficult to understand how readily diseases such as scurvy and ‘consumption’ (tuberculosis) flourished in such conditions, especially when coupled with a diet of weevilled flour and salted meats—fresh fruit and greens were rare. Cox’s achievement in totally avoiding scurvy during the six months of constructing the Western Road, is all the more impressive given this kind of working life twenty years later. 

At last, Backhouse assessed the Mountains road as follows: 

The road over the Blue Mountains, winds nearly forty miles, along their ridge, which ascends and descends a little, at intervals. Some parts of it have been cut with much labour, by prisoners, and others are sandy and rocky, but most of it is now good for carriages. There are a few miserable, solitary public-houses, by its side, in addition to the better ones, already mentioned (the Woolpack Inn—Ed), and another, of decent character (the Weatherboard Inn--Ed). Along its whole course there are no grassy openings to afford pasturage for cattle. At the present time, the little rigid herbage, in the forest, is dried up. The bullocks traveling with the settlers’ drays, are “ill favoured and lean fleshed,” from the scarcity of grass in the countries below. Dead bullocks were numerous by the road side. Wedge-tailed Eagles were frequently to be seen, feeding upon the fresh ones.[4] 

According to Backhouse, there were now a few shabby pubs by the side of the road. The impression is that they are shanty bark-huts which had no real longevity, supplied with locally-made liquor, and only in existence for the ‘quick kill’ of supplying bullockies with moonshine in their constant to-ing and fro-ing across the Mountains. These ‘Public-Houses’ must be distinguished from the more permanently established, albeit weatherboard, accommodation establishments called ‘Inns’.

A gathering of Quaker women. Quakers were generally more open-minded and progressive than most Christian sects: they respected women as equals and led the campaign against Slavery in the United States

At this stage, there were four known Inns operating in the Mountains: the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ at present-day Blaxland, which operated at the junction of all three roads ascending Lapstone Hill: Cox’s Road (the contemporary Highway), the Bathurst Road (today’s Old Bathurst Road) and Mitchell’s Pass (still named thus today). 

The second was the ‘Woolpack’ or ‘Welcome’ or ‘Valley Inn’ situated near present day Valley Heights station. Initially this possessed good, clear pasture behind, in its ‘Valley’, but clearly by the time of Backhouse’s journey this had been rendered ‘plain’ by constant grazing and dry conditions. 

The others were the ‘Weatherboard Inn’, at the location of what was to become ‘Wentworth Falls’, and the ‘Scotch Thistle’ at Black Heath, both of which were mentioned by Backhouse. 

One of the most striking observations made by the missionary was of the poor state of herbage all the way across. There was simply no way of supplying fresh grass to transportation animals (horses and bullocks), nor of adequately feeding stock-herds on their way to market from the western plains around Bathurst, with the poor vegetation of the ‘Mountains. The combination of drought and over-grazing, as well as accidentally sparked bushfires, had rendered the charcoal bushland arid and sparse. 

One of the consequences of such poor conditions was the common sight of road-side carrion, in this case dead bullocks, the favored beast of burden for freight trips across the Divide. Backhouse noticed that this in turn, led to the proliferation of Wedge-Tailed Eagles feeding from their flesh, later to become a symbol of Warrimoo itself.

The badge of Lower Blue Mountains Junior Rugby League Club, which commenced its life as the 'Warrimoo Eagles'

The image of this mighty bird is the key representative icon for Warrimoo Public School, the Warrimoo Rural Fire Service and the Lower Blue Mountains Junior Rugby League club, and has resulted in the township of Warrimoo being designated as the “Place of the Eagle”, despite the fact that they are rarely sighted today.

[1] MACKANESS, G., Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Review Publications, Dubbo, 1978
[2] Ibid, p10
[3] Ibid., p10
[4] Ibid., p11

Sunday, 28 April 2013

4 Develop-ment of 'The Great Western Road'


At first, traffic across the Bathurst Road was infrequent. As previously mentioned, Governor Macquarie held tight rein over the number of land grants issued in the western districts, and any persons wishing to cross with stock or provisions had to receive a pass in order to do so.

Thus, occasionally, maybe once every couple of weeks, one might have seen groups of men droving a mob of sheep or small herd of cattle, or a string of packhorses taking provisions to the settlers who were seeking long term residence near Bathurst. By the time of Macquarie’s departure, 1821, this amounted to 117 souls—insufficient to disturb the livelihoods of the local Wiradjuri people.

Governor Thomas Brisbane--he implemented the Bigge Report, increased the population of Bathurst, and declared 'Martial Law' to put down the Wiradjuri/Windradyne uprising

After the arrival of Governor Thomas Brisbane, however, the Bigge Report began to be implemented. The process of Crown Land distribution to the growing wave of free immigrants was streamlined and expanded—for every 100 acres of land granted, the settler was obliged to provide support and lodgings for one convict labourer. In a sense, much of the responsibility for penal supervision was now privatized.

There was a rapid expansion of population in the next few years: by 1824, the height of the Wiradjuri/Windradyne uprising, the number of white settlers was several thousand, so that natural game and hunting grounds had rapidly diminished. Open warfare and martial law were the result.

Thus, in the early 1820’s our picture of the Western Road around the Lower Mountains changed considerably. Now, the sight of travelers making their trek overland, by whatever means, was more common, as were bullock teams carrying increasingly heavy loads of provisions. These would return after several weeks, having picked up bales of wool (this had to be shorn in sheds at the top of Mt. York) or pelts or salted meats on the other side of the Mountains. Troops and convict gangs too, made the journey back and forth according to governmental order.

This is a famous and commonly used sketch of an 'Ironed Gang'--sights such as this would have been common on the Blue Mountains as such Gangs were used for both maintenance and construction of the 'Bathurst Road'

When the Wiradjuri Uprising was put down, traffic grew even more dense. Not only for those settlers who had legitimately secured further Land Grants west of the Divide, but for those cashed-up speculators who could not wait for official approval. They took their stock in search of fresh grazing-land and formed a new squattocracy flooding outward on  paths blazed by Oxley, Mitchell, Cunningham and others.

These “squatters” were unstoppable, because official supervision could not keep up with them. They occupied the best land: fertile valleys and watercourses, clear grazing plains and sweet grasses, and they occupied hundreds of thousands of acres…

 Thomas Livingstone Mitchell

In 1828, at the direction of the new Governor, Ralph Darling, Major Thomas Livingstone Mitchell succeeded John Oxley as Surveyor-General of New South Wales. He so impressed the British government with his detailed mapping of the ’19 Counties’ (the officially settled European areas of the colony) that he was knighted. One of his first objectives was to improve the access of the Bathurst Road at both ends of the Blue Mountains.

Governor Ralph Darling--replaced Brisbane in 1828 but had a tempestuous relationship with his Surveyor -General

Ignoring Darling’s demands to keep costs low and simply maintain a convict ‘Repair Gang’ on the switchback ‘Zig-Zag’ road up the escarpment (currently called ‘Old Bathurst Road’)—a road, because of its nature, that required constant maintenance, Mitchell commenced construction of a new, more direct, more spectacular road up the mountain (now called ‘Mitchell’s Pass Road’).

Thomas Livingstone Mitchell--Surveyor General of New South Wales and outstanding cartographer. He was another Scot who made a significant imprint upon the Blue Mountains
The only problem was, this road demanded the crossing of a deep creek gorge, and thus a bridge, yet no bridge designers or builders existed in the colony in 1830. At least until Mitchell discovered one David Lennox, quietly constructing a sandstone fence in Macquarie Street. Lennox was immediately ‘snatched’, and was given the task of designing and building bridges across NSW, but first, the one at ‘Mitchell’s Pass’!

'Lapstone' or 'Lennox' Bridge, drawn during construction in the early 1830's...Note the sparser vegetation in those days

Spanning “Brookside” or “Lapstone” Creek, the bridge was a tall horseshoe shape, and required the establishment of a nearby quarry in order to be properly built—it is a tribute to the convict gangs that built it, and is a masterful construction, which rightly bears its designer’s name. It was opened in 1833. Early travelers on this Mountains’ gateway frequently remarked on the spectacular ascent below beetling cliffs, and the picturesque bridge as the road began to level out.

Meanwhile, Mitchell had also addressed the bottleneck at the other side of the Mountains by constructing a new descent of the Western escarpment down ‘One Tree Hill’ (Mt. Victoria). It soon became known as “Victoria Pass”, and was again testament to Mitchell’s vision and stubborn persistence in demanding high quality, well built, stone supported, roads.

With further improvements to the resilience of this “Great Western Road”, the time spent traversing it in horse drawn carriages reduced from two weeks to two days. Indeed, it now became a fashionable thing for ladies and gentlemen of means to take the trip across the Blue Mountains in order to view the countryside of New South Wales in all its forms.

Victoria Pass in the 1920's--it survived to service motor vehicles 100 years after it was built by over 200 convicts. This was part of the NSW 'Gulag'

The newly set up Pilgrim and Valley Inns, sandwiching as they did the bushland of present-day 'Warrimoo', now looked to a healthy future, but it is clear that the changes taking place in the 1830’s threatened to swamp the Darug and Gandungarra peoples, and their way of life.